REM Sleep Behavior Disorder (RBD) – Discovery

12 01 2009

Okay, I know you’re not supposed to self-diagnose. But about five years ago, my dreams became very active … or rather my body became very active while I was dreaming. No more “atonia” that keeps the body from moving during dreams.

The RBD has become more severe over time. One night, I dove out of bed, hit my chin on a side table, nearly broke my jaw, and bit through my tongue. A few times, I have hit my wife, hit the wall, kicked items that were left too near the bed, and recently I scared off a room full of folks at a hostel when I sat up and yelled incoherently in the middle of the night. So, time to do something about it.

I originally associated my active dreaming with Qigong. I started studying medical Qigong with Dr. Hong Liu, and during an advanced workshop, we learned eventually to drop the conscious control of our body movements, instead allowing the qi to flow through us and move us in ways that balanced and healed us. Master Hong warned that we had to stay grounded, and that many people who  entered into advanced states of  Qigong  displayed signs of mental illness. Was active dreaming a result of this?

Another thought … it was delayed reaction to PTSD residue from my time in the jungles of Vietnam.

I did a quick bit of research on the Internet, and now almost wish I hadn’t. Scientific American says that RBD has a high correlation to early signs of Alzheimer’s, which my mother and great grandmother both had. There is also a good chance that RBD is an early symptom of Parkinson’s, and is usually associated with brain stem deterioration. One thing it isn’t — it is not a psychological problem.

Anyway, I’ll try to blog a bit about what is happening. For starters, I have an appointment with my GP, and I’m going to ask him for a referral to a sleep clinic. I also have a new bed that makes restless sleep less disturbing to my partner.

And no jokes about RLS. This is Restless Body Syndrome, and perhaps restless brain syndrome. Maybe some L-dopa will do the trick. And almost time for the days to start getting lighter … lots of exercise in the saddle of my bike coming up. I’ll start putting in 400-500 miles a month soon. That will oxygenate my brain cells!


Advising the Obama team on healthcare

28 12 2008

The Obama transition team asked for community input on healthcare reform. Here are the questions they were asking, and my responses to them:

1.   Briefly, from your own experience, what do you perceive is the biggest problem in the health system?


      Healthcare is currently based on the treatment of symptoms, usually through pharmaceutical methods. The model should be moved in the direction of finding root causes of illness, and focusing on the root cause rather than focusing on symptoms. That is a matter of education, primarily. Also, people should be rewarded for proactively preventing illness, since prevention reduces dependence on the healthcare system. 



2.   How do you choose a doctor or hospital? What are your sources of information? How should public policy promote quality health care providers?


      I choose by asking others who they go to and who they would recommend. I rarely see a “gatekeeper” physician, preferring to take responsibility for my own health.


      Public policy should reward physicians who successfully move their patients to individual responsibility rather than rewarding those who see the most patients, because the “quantity, not quality” paradigm encourages the use of pharmaceutical fixes of symptoms, which eventually leads to more prolonged and burdensome end-of-life illnesses. Policy should also look at redefining laws regarding “practicing medicine without a license” to allow traditional naturopaths and health coaches more latitude in their work with clients, since they can successfully help their clients reduce their reliance on the healthcare system.



3.   Have you or your family members ever experienced difficulty paying medical bills? What do you think policy makers can do to address this problem?


      Haven’t yet experienced difficulty keeping up, but anticipate the possibility in the future due to family members with expensive dental problems and degenerating vision problems.


      No specific ideas on this one other than the obvious ones:  put a cap on medical expenses, with the cap reduced for early childhood and people on permanent disability or social security; make a higher percentage of medical expenses tax deductible and/or tax free; and provide a predefined and guaranteed level of care for all individuals (e.g. UK’s National Health Service).


4.   In addition to employer-based coverage, would you like the option to purchase a private plan through an insurance-exchange or a public plan like Medicare?


      Yes, especially to help the unemployed, self-employed, and part-time workers.



5.   Do you know how much you or your employer pays for health insurance? What should an employer’s role be in a reformed health care system?


      In my home state, employers are required to pay for health insurance. This keeps wages lower, makes it harder for small businesses to survive, and is a burden on all employers. I would like to see the expense spread out so that the burden is shared by all, rather than being solely the responsibility of employers.


      With an insurance pool, employers could be rewarded by encouraging healthy lifestyle habits among their employees, since they could purchase health insurance at a lower premium. In other words, they could buy primarily accident and emergency insurance, and would not be forced to pay for expensive medical treatments for those who should share responsibility for illness developed due to lifestyle choices (e.g. most heart disease due to poor dietary choices, lung cancer and emphysema from smoking, diabetes from poor diet and lack of exercise, some forms of arthritis, etc.) In other words, if somebody wants to smoke, drink, be obese and not exercise, they should expect to pay a higher medical premium, and if someone wants to consciously live a healthy lifestyle, they should not have to subsidize the insurance for those who do not make healthy choices.


      Also, insurance coverage should include a broader recognition of alternative therapies, and should include dental and vision care as a part of basic coverage.



6.   Below are examples of the types of preventive services Americans should receive. Have you gotten the prevention you should have? If not, how can public policy help?


      I have gotten the screenings and preventative measures I felt I should have. I have not had a flu shot and do not intend to get one in the foreseeable future, but I do use a variety of public service screenings to monitor my health and fine-tune my lifestyle choices to stay within healthy parameters.



7.   How can public policy promote healthier lifestyles?


      I have mentioned several items above, and have included others below:


·         Reduced insurance costs for those who elect healthy lifestyles

·         Remove or reduce legal restrictions on traditional naturopaths, nutritionists, health coaches and others who offer alternatives that keep people from having to rely on allopathic medicine

·         Reward physicians who wean their patients from reliance on the healthcare system

·         Do not allow pharmaceutical companies to patent natural medicines

·         Develop a creative commons for researching new medications

·         Ban public advertisements for pharmaceutical products

·         Ban payments to physicians for prescribing certain drugs


      Going outside of the healthcare arena:


·         Automobile disincentives to reward alternative means of commuting

·         A Healthy America campaign, with participation in the campaign being recognized as a form of public service


Getting Burned – The Blue Light Special

22 04 2008

I’m working from home today, in part because nobody would want to see me in my current condition. My face is bright red in spotchy patches. I cannot touch my skin, it burns so badly, and I have to be heliophobic for the next 48 hours — in other words, I have to stay out of the sun. The reason — I had photodynamic therapy (PTD) on my face yesterday.

That is the cost of growing up in a sunny climate (Colorado) with a fair complexion. After awhile, you get so many actinic keratoses (not sure if that is the right plural, but they are the pre-cancerous skin cells that the dermatologist likes to freeze off when they are few and far between) that only a more generalized treatement will work. What’s it like?

First, your skin has to be thoroughly cleansed. The clinic I went to (Straub, in Honolulu) used an acetone wipe. Then your face gets wetted down with a substance known by the trade name of Levulan, or aminolevulinic acid (ALA). Precancerous cells grow more quickly than normal cells, and they are thirsty for the amino acid that gives ALA part of its name. That will shortly lead to the downfall of the AK cells, who in this case suffer from gluttony. The first part of the PTD process takes five minutes at the most, then you get sent away for an hour and a half of “marinating.” The ALA has to soak in, and meanwhile, you have to stay out of the sun. Fortunately, it was just coming up to lunch time, so between lunch and a good book (Earth: The Sequel), 1.5 hours was easy to kill.

The remaining ALA is rinsed off the face, then comes a pair of yellow swim goggles and a space helmet — a U-shaped wrap-around blue-spectrum sunlamp. I had a small fan that blew in my face, and a spray bottle full of water that I could use to keep myself cool, and the radio running in the background to keep my mind off the sharp pinpricks that started erupting all over my face. For 16 minutes and 40 seconds (exactly), I sat in this contraption listing to Don Maclean sing about American Pie. And meanwhile, my face was turning into a mince-meat pie.

When the egg timer goes off, the blue-light special is done, and so am I — well done. I leave with instructions to avoid sunlight for 48 hours, use sunscreen for four months, and itching and peeling over the next several days. The first two days of that feel like a bad sunburn … can’t touch my face, can’t pucker, can hardly open my mouth wide enough to slide a bite of food past my teeth. But I must say, it’s better than the alternative.

I’ve had all sorts of people say, “You’re a naturopath, why don’t you use a natural cure? I heard about some kind of tar you put on a precancerous spot …” and so forth. Well, maybe there is some tar that works naturally. But I would have been tarred and feathered from the top of my bald head to the bottom of my chin, and then some, in order to cover all the spots. That’s the thing about natural remedies … the best ones are those that are preventative. Once something starts up, you have to weigh the alternatives. There is a ledger that balances between effectiveness and expediency, between an ideal lifestyle and the need to carry on with daily life. In this particular case, the dermatologist’s therapy came out on the positive side of the ledger, even if my face does look like hamburger for a couple of days.

Peak performance?

11 04 2008

I hate to be a spoilsport, but striving for Peak Performance is, for most people, just setting yourself up for failure. You may be able to get there (to your own definition of peak) for a few minutes (or even seconds) by psyching yourself up, but it is not sustainable for most people. The simple reason:  it is too much of a stretch.

You see, it’s a simple matter of “You can’t get there from here.” An even more appropriate saying is “A thousand mile journey begins with a single step.” You cannot, under ordinary circumstances, go directly from where you are straight to your destination. All you can do realistically is to keep your destination in mind, and take a first step in that direction. Eventually, you may get to the precise destination you envisioned, but more likely, you will get caught up in the journey, and realize after awhile that your priorities have changed, and the target has moved. Refocus, and take another step in the direction of whatever goal is most important to you.

There are no prescriptions for achieving peak performance in any aspect of one’s life. The reason — every individual is different. I wake up naturally at 5:30 am. I check my e-mail, eat breakfast, then head to work. If it’s raining or I’m tired, I’ll usually catch the bus. If I can, I bicycle the 12.5 miles to the office. When I absolutely have to, I take the car, but I always feel a bit of disappointment in myself for not having been self-sufficient, and for having made a small contribution to the congestion and over-consumption that I see on the roads every day. That is just me. I have my own motives, my own pattern of living, my own way getting through the day.

I seriously doubt that you have the same pattern of living. Maybe you don’t work. Maybe you work two jobs. Maybe you skip breakfast, take kids to school, walk to work or drive 40 miles each way along winding country roads. Maybe you have bacon and eggs for breakfast at 9:00 am, rather than having a bowl of natural cereal at 6:00 am. The details are what make you you, and me me. It does no good for Doctor Don to tell you to walk for 20 minutes a day if you spend your life in a wheelchair, or if you live in a neighborhood where you fear for your life every time you step outside the door. I can’t tell you that you should eat 1800 calories when your personal physician tells you that you need a 3000 calorie diet just to maintain your current weight.

For me, the journey towards “peak potential” means riding my bike to work one more day a week than I do right now. For you, it might mean setting your alarm 15 minutes earlier so you aren’t so rushed in the morning, or promising yourself that you will walk to the mailbox at the bottom of your driveway instead of making the journey in your car. Each person is an individual, and the first step on your thousand mile journey has to start right where you are at this moment. It cannot follow a prescription, unless it is the prescription that you give to yourself.

What am I all about?

11 04 2008

Okay, what can you expect when you tune into my blog? I can list about three or four topics that you are likely to hear about. And of course with any one of those topics, I may drill down through several eon of information until I reach some precambrian layer. What are the passions?

  • Health. People ought to take more control of their own health, rather than leaving it to the medical establishment.
  • Consciousness. Ever heard of “noetic” sciences? That covers just about anything in the realm of mind and spirit, including how we know the things we know, and what it means to truly recognize that we are all connected at a deep root level.
  • Environment and Sustainability. I put those two together because there is such overlap. Expect to hear a lot about those two topics. In fact, the overlap goes into all of the topics I’ve already mentioned. The environment is closely tied into people’s health, and when someone recognizes their shared interests and shared commonalities, it is in their self-interest to protect not just their own being, but those of all creatures (and non-creatures) great and small.
  • Writing. I’m a published poet. A published technical writer. A published writer in general. Of course I extend that interest to all of the arts, including classical music and opera. Just don’t look in here if you want to read something about American Idol or Dancing with the Stars. I prefer enduring art.

So anyway, just wanted to say hello to break the ice. More later.